When the Celebrity Reflection sets sail in Europe next month before crossing to Miami in November, it will carry Celebrity Cruises’ newest features, including spa suites. Significantly for the cruise industry, the ship’s arrival will also signal the end of an era.
Bang, bang, bang: New vessels were built for North American cruise lines in Europe during a huge shipbuilding phase that started well before the global recession and comes to an end with Reflection — 14 new ships since 2010.
Comparatively, in the next few years, the introduction of new ships will be at a trickle.
Norwegian will float out its 4,000-passenger Breakaway and Getaway; Princess its two largest ships ever, the 3,600-passenger Royal Princess followed by sister ship Regal Princess; and Royal Caribbean, with its 4,000-passenger ship code-named “Project Sunshine.” That’s a total of only five new ships for North American lines in 2013 and 2014. Carnival, which only has hinted about new ships, will rename an existing one after a major, $155 million makeover that includes additional cabins and expanded decks. The 2,642-passenger Carnival Destiny will re-launch next April as the 3,006-passenger Carnival Sunshine.
As with every other generation of new ships, the next batch will have the advantage of lessons learned from the last generation, and promises to bring intriguing advances. At the top of the agenda are energy efficiency, new entertainment and food options, and better showcasing of what may be cruising’s greatest asset — constant sea views.
The cruise industry growth spurt that comes to an end this fall started with a “build it and they will come” attitude, says Rod McLeod, a Weston-based cruise consultant and former cruise executive.
“Some very optimistic and realistic assessments of the potential of the cruise market in the early and mid ’90s fueled a seemingly endless succession of orders right up to the present time,” McLeod says.
Cruise lines are slowing the rate of growth to keep their ships full, he says. But don’t expect the lull to last.
“Some time in the next three to five years we will see another spate of orders,” McLeod says. He adds that the new breed of ships won’t necessarily be built for North American cruisers.
“They will start coming fast and furious as the Asian market led by China opens up. There’s an awfully lot of Chinese. And they have a strong economy,” McLeod explains.
When you look at the ships of the past two years in terms of innovation, several trends emerge, the biggest one perhaps being a continuing effort by the industry to show no matter who you are and what you want to experience on vacation, cruise ships can provide it.
Expanded spas and outdoor fitness offerings highlighted active stuff to do onboard, while expansive waterparks on Carnival’s 3,690-passenger Magic and Breeze and Disney’s first-of-its-kind AquaDuck water coaster showed that kids can have fun in activities beyond established children’s programs.
Foodies were given more alternative restaurant choices, including an outdoor grill on the Reflection’s sister ship, Celebrity Silhouette, while those who eschew formality were offered more casual dining options, even on Oceania’s fancy 1,250-passenger Marina and Riviera.